Understand Broken Heart Syndrome and Help a Grieving Senior

senior lady with broken heart looking at old photo
These tips can help a grieving senior feel more at peace after the loss of a loved one.


In his documentary about grief, George Shelley uses an analogy of glitter. Toss a handful of glitter into the air, and it is going to settle into all the cracks and crevices of the room, impossible to fully sweep up and remove. Anyone who has lost a loved one can relate. Yet in certain instances, grief could be so overwhelming that it can result in a serious and aptly-named condition: broken heart syndrome. It’s important to know how to help a grieving senior to find peace and avoid this extremely serious outcome.

Broken heart syndrome is a very real physical condition due to the intense stress experienced in some types of grief (such as one spouse losing the other after decades of marriage). The medical term is takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a temporary enlargement of the heart that prevents it from pumping blood effectively.

And, it’s more prevalent than you might know. A number of high-visibility examples include Johnny Cash, who passed away just four months after the loss of his wife and George H.W. Bush, who became ill following the loss of his wife of 73 years.

Researchers have been analyzing the impact of grief on an individual’s physical health for years. In 1995, for instance, the term “widowhood effect” was coined to explain the thirty percent rise in mortality rate faced by those who lost a longtime partner. Other scientists determined a connection between grief and the immune system. Some surviving spouses simply lose the will to live.

Help prevent this condition and ease the pain of grief for someone you love with these tips.

  • Suggest the senior speak with a counselor to work through overwhelming emotions.
  • Look for a grief support group for the person to attend, either virtually or in person.
  • Make sure the senior is staying hydrated, eating healthy foods, and getting a lot of sleep.
  • Remind the person everything they have to live for, and that doing so is the best way to honor the lost loved one’s legacy.
  • Talk about the lost loved one, allowing the opportunity for shared memories and stories.
  • Provide a listening ear and encourage the senior to convey their grief in a healthy way.
  • Help the person stay engaged in comforting, enjoyable activities whenever possible.

A trained caregiving companion from Golden Harmony, award-winning provider of elderly care in Raleigh, NC and surrounding areas, can also be a great way to help a grieving senior. We provide socialization and plenty of opportunities for conversations and reminiscing, along with engaging activities, transportation wherever an older adult needs to go, and so much more. Contact us at 919-426-7522 for complimentary in-home consultation to get started on customized home care services for someone you love.